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The Punisher
(2004)
Thomas Jane, John Travolta
(Discounted DVD from Amazon)
. "Punisher: War Zone"

If you didn't like Thomas Jane as the original Punisher ("Punisher") wait'll you buy a load of lead from the new guy, Ray Stevenson ("King Arthur") who looks more like a heavy than a purveyor of justice we can wrap our arms around.

Think Steven Seagal without the black belt but with a similar skill set and speed. Throw in a little Batman for the whimsy of the villains he comes up against and for the dark gotham habitat, then, a dash of Hellboy for the impatience to turn things red--and a sense of this crime fighter and his derivative bag of tricks is yours.

The satisfaction of justice is key for Frank Castle (Stevenson) and, in its pursuit, he's a one-man invasion. Good he's on our side. While the high-tempo, bass-filled music by Michael Wandmacher does its job of lifting and sustaining the tension, the sound of gun mechanisms and bullet fusillades is a symphony all its own as Castle expresses himself on violent sociopaths.

Chief among them is mob boss Billy Russoti (Dominic West), as ruthless and greedy as they come, and his ever faithful, aptly named Loony Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison--when you see this guy in action you'll know that his name is more than appropriate--it's unavoidable).

Russoti is devious and strong but a combat session with Punisher ends with his fall into a glass crunching machine. No escape possible as he goes down the vortex, but this is comic book fantasy and we can't be having an early eradication of our main villain, even allowing for intimate contact with gears and hooks.

Sure enough, a plastic surgeon is called in to restore what's left, with bone reconstruction, zippery lines of scabrous stitches sectioning his face, and enhanced evil ambitions--all intact. But, haven't we seen this villain before?

Julie Benz ("Dexter"'s more than willing squeeze) makes a nice appearance as the anxious femme victim with dark hair and child. Stevenson is all grim and serious, outdone in the personality department by West and Hutchison who are having so much fun by raising the obnoxious level. What the latter is allowed to have so much fun doing is a true creep-out.

Former World Karate and Kickboxing Champion Lexi Alexander ("Hooligans") directs with a clear taste for brutality and action, loving the kill and the comic book overkill--like the instant disappearance of heads from a high caliber ordnance. There's so little time for deep characterization.

If you're not into loud, vicious, two-dimensional violence attempting to outdo all other gun powder and hardware-stunt onslaughts, then sitting through this will be your punishment. Boyfans and adolescent types, on the other hand, will get their pleasure centers stoked.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Billy Hutchison and Ray Stevenson
Giving The Punisher a bad day--this is not going to be a haircut!

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